Weak rays of morning sunlight woke Ahohako from a deep sleep. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and rubbed his eyes for a moment, recalling fragments of the strange dream he’d had. Once again, he had been swimming before his birth father, Tangaroa.
“Your wish will be granted,” Tangaroa had said in his oddly clear, deep voice. “But once you are a human, you must leave this place. I will permit your safe passage by rowboat, but if you attempt to return to these cursed waters, then I will not guarantee your safety.”
Ahohako shook his head to clear away then dream, then rose to his feet. It was only then that he noticed – this was not his home. He turned around, taking in the unfamiliar surroundings. Had he drunk too much last night and fallen asleep in some stranger’s bed? Was he still dreaming? He reached down to pinch himself, then let out a yelp. His arms! He looked down at his torso, his legs, his feet. His smooth white skin was suddenly golden-brown, covered in fine, dark hair. And his scales – his scales were gone! What was happening to him?
Ahohako raced to the mirror, then felt the blood drain from his head. He recognized the face staring back at him – the round, dark eyes and firm jaw. He had seen it so many times around the island, usually next to the sweet, pretty face of Puaura Timoci. His father had not transformed Ahohako from merman to human. He had placed Ahohako into the human body of another man – Ahio Kaho .
But if Ahohako had become Ahio then what had happened to the real Ahio Kaho?
Earlier that morning, on the other side of the island, Ahio Kaho was in the middle of a nightmare. That is, he assumed it must be a nightmare. Instead of his comfortable bedroom, he had opened his eyes and found himself in a cold, dank, sparsely furnished cabin. As if that weren’t bizarre enough, he glanced down and saw his body.
“What the hell?” He lifted one leg and stared with horror at his legs, which were crusted with thick, bronze-colored scales. He had turned into a monster! He pressed the palms of his hands against his eyes, trying to force them to open in the real world. But when he looked again he was still in the strange little house, with pale white skin and those weird legs, which reminded him of someone he had once known. Ahohako Bjorkman! Of course! But why on earth was he dreaming that he was Ahohako Bjorkman? Or was this a dream?
Ahio rubbed his eyes again, concentrating on his own room, and on the beautiful face of Puaura, his bride-to-be. Today was their wedding day, and he wanted nothing more than to wake up as himself and marry the woman he loved. “Wake up!” he told himself through clenched teeth. He slapped his face. Twice. Nothing happened. “Wake up!”
Heart racing, Ahio ran outside the cabin. Rain drenched his long hair and streamed down his face, wet and cool and real, but still he did not awaken as himself. He did not know how or why, but for some reason, he was stuck in the body of Ahohako. Which meant that maybe they had switched places, and Ahohako now occupied the body of Ahio. And in just a few hours, half the people on the island would be gathering together to see Ahio-who-was-not-really-Ahio marry Puaura. Ahio broke into a run. He had to warn Puaura!
He arrived, panting, at the door of Puaura’s houseboat. When she emerged, he caught his breath. She looked so lovely – dove-white dress against mocha skin, and tiny red flowers adorning her head like a crown.
She frowned. “It’s Ahohako, right? What are you doing here?”
“Puaura, it’s me.” Ahio reached forward to place his hands on her shoulders. “Please. You have to believe me. Something weird has happened. I’m not Ahohako. I’m Ahio. Your Ahio.” His voice pleaded with her to believe him.
Puaura stepped away, her eyes alarmed. “What’s wrong with you?” she said, shaking her head. “This isn’t funny, Ahohako.”
“I’m not Ahohako! You have to believe me, baby – It’s me. It’s Ahio!”
“You can’t marry him. Okay? Don’t do it.”
“Stop! I’m calling the police.” Puaura turned away and hurried inside. Ahio fled before the police could arrive, his eyes filling with tears. Puaura was going to marry an imposter. She would be lost to him forever unless he could find a way to stop the wedding. He ran inland, and up the hills toward his house – the house where the real him lived, then banged on the front door until the Imposter Ahio opened up.
Imposter Ahio’s face filled with fear. “I don’t know,” he whispered.
Ahio had not expected this. “You must know! People don’t just wake up inside other people’s bodies!” he said, throwing his hands in the air. “You have to fix this. I am supposed to marry Puaura this afternoon. I can’t marry her looking like you!”
Ahohako looked dazed. “But…but I can’t. It was not my doing, I swear. It was Tangaroa.”
Ahio opened his mouth to retort, but suddenly, his throat began to swell. “Can’t…breathe…” He clutched at his throat, eyes gaping at Ahohako. “What’s…happening to me?”
Ahohako looked at him sadly. “I’m sorry, Ahio,” he said. “I am – I mean, you are a siren. A merman. The only way for you to survive is the sea.”
Ahio’s lips turned blue as he struggled for air. “Wed—wedding. P-Puaura,” he gasped.
“Go! You must go to the sea, or you will die!” said Ahohako. With one last wide-eyed look at the man who had stolen his body, Ahio turned and ran toward the ocean as fast as his scaly legs could go.